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Surrey parents, school trustees worried dry grads will take tax hit

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Each year, parent groups at local high schools gear up for graduation. And most times, that includes a dry grad celebration, where teens can gather in a drug and alcohol-free environment and celebrate together.

Often there is music, a variety of entertainment, food and prizes – all aimed at giving those graduating a safe night to remember.

But Trustee Terry Allen says a problem has come to light that could put all that in jeopardy.

With such celebrations costing at least $20,000, the fundraising involved is extensive. Schools hold sales of a variety of goods from baked items to plants, they have raffles and parent pub nights.

However it’s the donations of money and goods from local businesses and individuals that really bolster the bottom line.

Allen says while the provincial government supports dry grad initiatives and encourages issuing charitable tax receipts for such events, the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) currently doesn’t accept dry grad donation receipts.

“It will be a nightmare getting charitable donations if you can’t give receipts,” said Allen at last week’s board of education meeting. “It should be a concern… we’re trying to provide a safe environment for kids.”

Bob Holmes, president of the Surrey District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), said the rule isn’t new, but has become an issue at some schools. He said the tax matter comes down to whether the donations are considered education or curriculum-related. Parents, he said, believe the messages teens glean through dry grad should be taken into account.

“Though it’s not directly curricular,” said Holmes, “there’s still a lesson for students to not drink and drive.”

Cindy Dodson, a parent and the Dry Grad Committee Chair at North Surrey Secondary, has been working for a year on the school’s dry grad 2013 event. She says while some companies and individuals have made donations of cash or items without asking for a receipt, other companies have guidelines for charitable donations that include the requirement of a tax receipt. Still others, she said, send a request for a tax receipt along with their donation, which leads to an “awkward situation.”

So far, said Dodson, no one has rescinded a donation from her school.

“One of the direct consequences of not being able to issue tax receipts is losing those cash donations that parents as well as companies might make...” Dodson said.

There are 19 high schools in Surrey, each of which fundraises annually to provide a safe, alcohol and drug-free grad party for teens.

The school board has asked district staff to contact the CRA to review its policy. A report is due back to the board before December.

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